Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize winning work, The Underground Railroad is a historical piece that gave life to the fabled Underground Railroad of the 1800s. The Underground Railroad is a network of secret trail and routes which were used to ferry slaves from the Deep South towards the free states and Canada. However, Whitehead’s interpretation of this important network takes a more literal (and physical) manifestation. In his work, the Underground Railroad is a subterranean locomotive that is complete with stations and conductor. It is a towering piece of literature that, in general, portrays the sad history of the American south.

The narrative’s impact drew power from Whitehead’s skillful storytelling. With it are carefully thought out passages and lines that are insightful and thought-provoking. Here are ten of the the most memorable and impactful quotes from this pulsating prose.


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“The word we. We are not one people but many different people. How can one person speak for this great beautiful race – which is not one race but many, with a million desires and hopes and wished for ourselves and our children?”
Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad

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“If you want to see what this nation is all about, you have to ride the rails. Look outside as you speed through, and you’ll find the true face of America. It was a joke, them, from the start. There was only darkness outside the windows on her journeys, and only ever would be darkness.”
Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad

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“Yet when his classmates put their blades to a colored cadaver they did more for the cause of colored advancement than the most high-minded abolitionist. In death the negro became a human being. Only then was he the white man’s equal.”
Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad

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“Freedom was a thing that shifted as you looked at it, the way a forest is dense with the trees up close but from the outside, from the empty meadow, you see its true limits. Being free had nothing to do with chains or how much space you had. ON the plantation, she was not free, but she moved unrestricted on its acres, tasting the air and tracing the summer stars. The place was big in its smallness. Here, she was free of her master but slunk around a warren so tiny she couldn’t stand.”
Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad

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“Who are you after you finish something this magnificent – in constructing it you have also journeyed through it, to the other side. On one end there was who you were before you went underground, and on the other end a new person steps out into the light. The up-top world must be so ordinary compared to the miracle beneath, the miracle you made with your sweat and blood. The secret triumph you keep in your heart.”
Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad

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“The whites came to this land for a fresh start and to escape the tyranny of their masters, just as the freemen had fled theirs. But the ideals they held up for themselves, they denied others.”
Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad

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“And America, too, is a delusion, the grandest one of all. The white race believes – believes with all its heart – that it is their right to take the land. To kill Indians. Make war. Enslave their brothers. This nation shouldn’t exist, if there is any justice in the world, for its foundations are murder, theft, and cruelty. Yet we are here.”
Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad

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“Poems were too close to prayer, rousing regrettable passions. Waiting for God to rescue you when it was up to you. Poetry and prayer put ideas in people’s heads that got them killed, distracting them from the ruthless mechanism of the world.”
Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad

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“It was a magnificent operation, from seed to bale, but not one of them could be prideful of their labor. ,It had been stolen from them. Bled from them. The tunnel, the tracks, the desperate souls who found salvation in the coordination of its stations and timetables – this was a marvel to be proud of. She wondered if those who had built this thing had received their proper reward.”
Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad

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“The music stopped. The circle broke. Sometimes a slave will be lost in a brief eddy of liberation. IN the sway of a sudden reverie among the furrows or while untangling the mysteries of an early morning dream. In the middle of a song on a warm Sunday night. Then it comes, always – the overseer’s cry, the call to work, the shadow of the master, the reminder that she is only a human being for a tiny moment across the eternity of her servitude.”
Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad


Thus ends the list. How about you? Have you read this Pulitzer Prize in Fiction winning masterpiece? What do you think of it? What were your favorite lines? Do share in the comment box.

Happy reading!